Why Food is More Than Just Science
Choosing, preparing and eating nourishing food has never been so complicated and involved.
The health conscious have always paid careful attention to the calorie content of food and been sure to tick off their 5-a-day, but even they are struggling with the growing number of dietary issues that require attention and the opposing expert views that seem to surround each one. What hope for those with only a passing interest in healthy eating?
One of the key reasons that eating has become so complicated is that modern society demands that the decisions that shape our lives are grounded firmly in science. We believe that science and technology are our saviours and so through reductionist eyes we have sought to discover how the chemical components of food interact with the chemical components of our bodies.
These interactions form the basis of the science of nutrition and it is so complex that years of study are required to really understand it.
The complexity of nutrition has allowed us to reach a position where we believe that others know better when it comes to choosing an optimal diet for us. But is that really true? How is it that thousands of generations of our species survived and reproduced on this planet before nutritional experts existed and scientific research was invented?
In a way there has always been scientific research – it is called trial, error and learning from experience. It is something we've done since the beginning of time and it's instinctual, allowing us to survive. However in times past this type of logical reasoning was not the only method we used to inform our decisions and choices, we knew that it only worked well when we combined with it with a heavy dose of intuition.
Intuition involves tapping in to a source of knowledge beyond our logical mind, relying on our right brain more than our left, and it's something we can all do with practice. Unfortunately, the skill of intuition is no longer highly regarded and is therefore not encouraged by today's society. Consequently as we continue struggling to wrap our minds around the complex science of eating well, the art of eating well has all but been lost.
In recent years the practice of mindfulness, which is derived from Buddhist traditions and seeks to focus attention on the thoughts, emotions and sensations occurring in the present moment, has become popular.
Mindfulness courses are popping up everywhere and with positive research to support its benefits, even mainstream medicine has started to adopt it as one of their therapeutic tools. A truly mindful existence means bringing present moment awareness to every aspect of our life including how and what we eat.
Eating mindfully brings us into deep contact with ourselves and the food we are eating and during those moments of connection we open ourselves up to the intuitive wisdom that our ancient ancestors relied on.
The rewards of mindful eating and using intuition to guide our food choices has far greater benefits than just improving physical wellbeing as food has the power to heal us on all levels; body mind and soul. When we feed the body we feed the mind as our thoughts and emotions depend, in part, on the quality of nutrients used as building blocks for our brain, nervous system, hormones and neurotransmitters.
Interestingly, we also feed our mind more directly as food has the ability to cause significant shifts in our emotions and this can happen just by thinking about a food, we don't even need to taste it. The emotional shifts that occur with food are personal and depend on our individual story; for one person bananas may cause anxiety following a period of eating them regularly during cancer chemotherapy treatment, or for another custard may induce feelings of safety and comfort as a result of being fed this food as a child by a loving grandparent.
Whatever the underlying story, we all have experience of the emotional influence of food.
What about the effects of food on our soul?
This may be more difficult to measure but it is no less important than the effects on our body and mind. Food feeds our soul by facilitating deep connection. It allows us to build a strong relationship with our body by teaching us how it responds when placed in direct contact with elements (foods) introduced from the outside environment.
When we are open and ready to listen we will come to appreciate the magnificence of our bodies through this approach. Food also holds much power when it comes to enhancing our connection with others. Food is the foundation on which many of our social gatherings are built and sharing food is an important way that we strengthen our bonds with others. Going deeper still, food is a physical manifestation of love.
As an infant the love we received from our mother or primary carer was intimately connected with feeding and the association we have between food and love is never lost; for the rest of our lives we will understand the power of giving and receiving food as a display of love. And finally, food aids our connection with something greater than ourselves, we may call that 'something' God, or the Universe or 'all that is'.
Whatever our personal descriptive term, many of us have a sense that something greater than ourselves exists and a growing number are experiencing a yearning desire to know and connect with this spiritual aspect of life.
There are many ways to fulfill this desire from religion, meditation and breath work, to being in Nature, music and art. Food is another vehicle for spiritual connection as it reminds us that we rely totally on nature for our survival and shows how abundant this universe is when we live in harmony with its natural laws.
As a modern society we have become more and more disconnected in recent years; from ourselves, from others and from our spiritual origins. And yet at a time when it can seem that we are destined to continue down this path never to return, there are signs that many people are choosing an alternative way. Increased awareness of the importance of mind-body medicine and mindfulness and, regarding food; growing interest in sustainable farming practices and locally grown organic food, these are all indicators that shifts towards a more connected society are happening.
So how can we take advantage of the mass of nutritional knowledge that exists outside of ourselves but at the same time tap into the wisdom that lies within us? How can we find a way of eating that is uncomplicated and stress-free yet nourishes us deeply, on every level of our being? I suggest four simple steps.
1) Get to know your body
Do this by spending some time every day in meditation and observe your body, noticing what it feels and what it needs. To further deepen body awareness keep a journal taking note of how your body responds to the changing circumstances of everyday life, including the food you eat.
2) Get informed about food
Choose sources of information that appeal to you, they may be scientific or not, it doesn't matter. Use your common sense when reading the information remembering that everything you read is only someone's opinion (even scientific conclusions are based on opinion) and check everything you read against your own truth.
Be prepared to use the information you have learnt and apply it to yourself, using that age-old system of trial and error.
4) Learn to trust
This may take time and practice but if you've followed the other three steps, especially the first, you will eventually discover that your body holds the answers you are looking for and will guide you to the right foods for you as and when you need them.
It is a great feeling to have confidence in and enjoy the way you eat and by following the four steps this can be reality for all of us. When this happens we will come to truly know what it feels like to be deeply nourished by our food.